How Do You Tackle A To-Do List?

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to-do list

If you haven’t seen or heard, my wife and I are selling our first home.  We have been thinking about this for some time and decided the time was right.

Our area is doing well with real estate and people are wanting to buy.  There is also some light inventory, so it works out in our favor.  Since we have to buy once we sell, I also want to make sure mortgage rates don’t creep up too much.  I used to have a running list of things that I needed to do on my whiteboard, but those somehow got erased and replaced with other business related items.  I have been busy before, but when you have a full time job, a child, a business, and you want to sell your house, it can be extremely overwhelming.  Enter the to-do list, the basis of time management!

What’s On Your List?

I always have some sort of to-do list floating around.  Whether it be written on actual paper the old school way, on a phone app, or on my computer, there is always something to be done.  You all know what I am talking about.  I have separate to-do lists because I need to keep some type of organization going on over here.  I have my business list, my honey-do list, grocery list, and my work list.  There are probably a few more, but I can’t think of them right now!

What I like about making lists is that they are easy to follow.  If I didn’t have my grocery list every week, there would be a very large money drain going on.  I have shopped before without a list and I can tell you, it isn’t pretty.  Nothing good can happen without a list.  You can go in for one thing and come out with ten.  Been there and done that!

Controlling the Chaos

I have to admit that lately my listing ability has become a little haphazard.  With the pending home listing coming up quickly, my t0-do list is growing more than I am accomplishing.  There is nothing fun about taking an item off a list, just to have five more things added on.  It feels like a never ending roller coaster ride that I desperately want to get off.

This past weekend I found myself working hard to get our home ready for a pre-listed showing.  A realtor that we interviewed took the initiative to find us a prospective buyer.  While it was awesome, we had to fit two weeks worth of work into one day.  Talk about stressful.

As I was working on items around the house, I was finding that I couldn’t finish a task.  I would start on one, then find another one that needed to be completed.  No matter where I went in the house, I kept finding things to do.  It was chaos; not organized chaos but hurricane chaos.  I typically don’t handle projects like this, but I am just overwhelmed.  There are too many things to do and not enough time to do them.

The biggest issue is that I consider myself somewhat of a perfectionist.  I know that our house is in really great shape, but it is just how I do things.  Selling a home is not an easy task, but making sure it is in tip-top shape before you list it can be incredibly important.  You only get one chance to make a first impression and I am trying to make a lasting impression.

How I Typically Tackle a To-Do List

Alright, you now realize that I am not perfect 😉 I am, in fact, very much human.  I get overwhelmed and a little out of control at times. It happens to the best of us!  How I typically handle my to-do lists is by priority and time needed to complete.  I first list all of my items that need to be done.  Then I look back at them and list how much time each “should” take.  This will give me the best idea of what project I need to work on.  It also provides me with a list that I can look at to see if there is anything I can complete in my spare time.  If I have 10 minutes to do some work, I am not going to start a job that will take an hour to complete. That is just asking for failure.  I usually finish one job and then move onto the next.  As you can see, this home listing project is not going the way I typically like, but that is life!


So, how do you tackle your to-do list?  Do you have anything exciting on a list right now that you need to complete?


Photo courtesy of Courtney Dirks

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Grayson is the owner of Debt Roundup and Empowered Shopper. He also co-owns Sprout Wealth and Eyes on the Dollar. After going to battle and winning against consumer debt, he decided it was time to learn how to use credit wisely and grow his wealth. He discusses all things personal finance and is not afraid of being controversial. He also is a freelance writer and blog manager.

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  • “Nothing good can happen without a list”. This is my mantra, Grayson! I do lists just like you do, adding the time I think I’ll need to get them done too. Your techniques work very well, especially for someone like me, for whom organization doesn’t come easy. Great stuff!

  • I tackle my “to-do” list by knocking out some of the easier stuff first. Sometime procrastinating the difficult tasks helps me get motivated to get the other stuff done. I make two to-do lists every day – one for work and one for everything else. I’d be lost without them!

  • Pauline says:

    I start with the tedious items in the morning. Usually by 11am most of my willpower is gone so at least some of it is out of the way.

  • Yeah I live and die by the checklist. It’s really the only thing that keeps me on track

  • One step at a time.. that is the only way to tackle a to-do list. I typically try to zero in on the most important tasks first, instead of the easiest. T

  • I try hard to focus on one thing at a time until it’s complete, before moving on to my next to-do. While that does work, it’s hard to do. My mind races when I have a lot to do!

    Good luck with the sale of your home!

  • I have about a million to-do lists right now. Fortunately, Greg is working on our taxes at this very second…which has been hanging over my head!

  • The danger I have with to-do lists is that they become too large. Then I don’t know where to start and I’m paralyzed. I try to keep them as minimal as possible and then prioritize what has to be done first.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      That was how it turned out this past weekend. I typically don’t allow them to get that big and take care of things quickly. If you do wait too long, you can get in trouble.

  • Matt Becker says:

    This is definitely something I struggle with and have really been working to improve recently now that I’m 100% out on my own. I’ve been keeping my to-do lists in Remember the Milk, which isn’t perfect but helps me organize things in a few different ways. I’ve also been trying to take some time each Sunday to map out tasks for each day of the way, as well as time at the end of each day to get more detailed about the next day.

    My biggest problem is exactly what you described: jumping from task to task because they all feel important and I hate leaving any of them to wait. But that’s such an unproductive habit and I’m working hard to just stay focused on one thing at a time.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      I have used Remember the Milk. It is not bad, but as you said, not perfect either. Jumping from one to one is just a bad way to go. I felt like I didn’t get anything done this past weekend.

  • I need to make more to do lists. I’m terrible about writing stuff down. We have a laundry room project coming up that I really need to get organized for. I can see myself buying paint but no paint brushes or something like that. My iPhone has actually really helped with the reminder section, one benefit I never saw coming before I got a smart phone.

  • My issue is finding a centralized place for my to do list. I have all these little notes and sometimes I use my iPhone. I need a better system!

  • I used to be really good at keeping it all straight in my head, but after my son, I had to get serious about getting things accomplished. Now, I keep lists in my phone and cross them off as I tackle them. As a back up for important things, I set calendar reminders in either my calendar or our joint family calendar to keep us focused. Worst case scenario, I tell my 8 year old son what I have to do and he remembers and reminds me. 🙂

  • I make my list with the most important thing at the top, like most people. But I tackle it by choosing the items that I feel like doing. I know that sounds counter-productive, but my mind takes over from there. Somehow, just being aware of the list gets me to do many of the items on the list. And I get the #1 items done too. The list becomes internalized & kind of mentally nags me. So I get done much, much more than if I didn’t make the list. This might not be as logical as taking on items that are most important first, but it’s the way my mind works!

  • E.M. says:

    I’m a perfectionist in most areas, so I know how costly that can be time-wise. I like the idea of sorting your to-do list by importance and time. A five minute task looks pretty attractive when you have downtime versus an hour long task.

  • Mr. Utopia says:

    Being a perfectionist most certainly can make accomplishing tasks on your to do list challenging! I can wholeheartedly relate to that. Along a similar vein, I often get irked when I’ve got it all planned out to tackle a certain item on the list and, for whatever reason (usually out of my control), I can’t get it crossed off. It’s all too easy to get caught up on it and then let it prevent your from getting to the other items!

  • Mrs. 1500 says:

    I find I accomplish more if I work in a circle. Most of my tasks are cleaning the house. I start in one place in the house, and work in a circle around the house to complete it. Perhaps I start in the kitchen. I choose a corner, and work in a circle around the kitchen, putting things away, wiping down, sweeping up. Once that entire room is done, I move to the next room in the circle, which is either the bathroom or the front room, and start again in a corner. I allow myself to leave the room to put things away, but do not allow myself to pick up anything from that other room, unless it belongs in the room I am currently cleaning.
    I do have a touch of the OCD, so maybe this wouldn’t work for you. It works for me. Good luck!

  • Michelle says:

    My whole life is one major check list! I usually go with an interesting task followed by a boring one. And just keep rotating!

  • Some days are better than others for me. Today was madness, and I will now be celebrating the end of it with a drink 🙂

  • Christine Weadick says:

    I found what worked for me during those high stress times like having the house on the market and moving plus the lead up to Christmas (I do 95% of the work!!) was grabbing one of those old style steno note pads and keeping it handy 24/7. I write down what needs to be done as it occurs to me, including if I wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking of all the stuff I have to do in the next while. I turn on the light, write what ever down and am able to go back to sleep without tossing and turning thinking about it and then dragging my tired butt the next day. If it’s on the list I won’t forget about it. I go over the list in the morning with the first cup of caffeine and organize then. The steno pad is big enough for a big list, even if it’s an ongoing list, and easy enough to keep track of size wise. The two sections on each page allows prioritizing easily . The pad is big, easy to use, harder to lose and it worked for me!!! Plus for the moving part I could write down info like window sizes and a rough layout etc!!!! Good luck with everything!!!

  • Krista says:

    A tip I was given in an event planning workshop was to only allow 6 items on a to-do list to be visible at any one time. I usually make the full list (complete with details like yours about length of time to complete) and then choose the six top priority and only look at that list until they’re done. There’s something about the length of a list that can be daunting but a medium list with high priority will make you feel like it’s doable without being overwhelming. Food for thought.

    I must add… I’m a list queen. There’s something inexpressibly satisfying about making a list and crossing things off. Professed list-addict.

  • Cat says:

    Ack I have transformed from having 2304823 to do lists to just one on my computer. But it’s always a million miles long and I never get as much done as I wanted to. My husband on the other hand is a master at a to do list. He makes one every night before bed and sets up the times he’s going to do certain tasks. I’m trying to learn from him haha.

  • I’ve never been one for to-do lists, at least on paper. I guess we all have mental to do lists, right? But I like to handle the easiest items on the list, because I know if I do the hard ones at the beginning, I’m going to get burnt out and won’t be as likely to finish. Plus, the sense of accomplishment from knocking out a few items quickly serves as my motivation to keep going.

  • I LOVE making to do lists, but I tend to tackle the smaller, easier tasks first, even when their less time sensitive (a.k.a. vacuuming the cat). I’ve been told that I should try to attack the more difficult tasks first, especially early in the morning. Maybe someday I’ll try that. I enjoy a hand written list on a lined pad of paper so I can highlight items as they are accomplished and I try to make a new one each day.

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